Every weekday, from 5:40-10 a.m., Jerry Miller sits at the front of the Roche Sports Complex. For this mild, white-haired gentleman, interaction with people gives life and work their richness.
“We laugh here together every morning,” he said. “I do not want people coming through the door with a frown on their face. I share so much joy with these kids every day. And we talk about families, talk about brothers and sisters. We even get talking about politics.”
“These things are the simplicity of life,” he said, noting that the simple things can also be the most profound, an idea that has become his life’s philosophy, learned over the past 80 years of his life.
From a farm in Saline, Michigan, Miller worked in the farm industry for several years — first in Saline, and then, after his marriage in 1955, in Tecumseh, Michigan.
Around 1965, he worked automotive parts factory and then in the trucking industry.
He said his most memorable experiences were selling trucks in Alaska for the pipeline project in the ’70s, opening a convenience store called “Miller’s Main Stop” in Reading, Michigan, leasing and servicing trucks again in the ’90’s. and, in the early 2000’s, working for New Carbon Distribution selling pancake and waffle mixes to businesses.
His work for New Carbon brought him in contact with Hillsdale folks, who informed him of a job opening at the Roche center. Since 2011, he said, he’s been manning the front desk and helping out at special events and games.
Miller told about his notable life’s work with a sense of gratefulness and humility.
He said his greatest passion is his service work for the Shriners organization, of which he’s been a member since 1981. Miller said the organization has opened 22 hospitals that provide medical services for children for free. He often drives buses to transport children to hospitals, even as far as Chicago.
“The organization is about brotherly love, relief, and truth — if you display those things, you will be better and other people will be better around you,” he said. “I live the Shriner’s program every day of my life.”
To the students and staff who frequent the Roche center, his dedication to serving others is evident.
“He just seems to start your day off with a smile and always says something nice to you to make you feel good about yourself,” Staff Assistant for Athletics Sue Olmstead said. “ I think he tries to be a father to all the kids here.”
Since her freshman year, junior Marie Landskroener has been going with friends to the Roche center to work out, and she said Miller makes it “a joy to go.”
“We get up really early to work out, and that can be hard, but one of the reasons we’ll go anyway is so that we can see Jerry,” she said.
Miller’s love for people is also evident in his care for his wife Karen of 60 years and family.
“I lucked out, I really did,” he said. “Karen is a wonderful woman — she’s a tremendous mother, a great wife — I guess I don’t know how you could say more about her. She is the reason I am what I am; she’s been my rock. When the going was tough she was the tough one.”
Miller and his wife have three daughters, four grandchildren, and three great-grandsons. Olmstead, who knows one of his daughter, said “she would say he’s the best dad in the world.”
Miller said young people are adults’ “greatest asset,” and he has wisdom to share with them — “accept the enthusiasm of the day,” “at some point in time, you gotta believe in Jesus Christ,” and “don’t stop pursuing the next thing.”
“What you’re doing right now is simple in the grand scheme of things but it matters,” he said.
Miller got up with a chuckle: “Well, enough philosophy!” But he’ll keep living his philosophy day by day, person by person, with his smile and his friendly conversation and all the simple things that make him memorable for everyone he meets.